Fans swarm Mall for book festival

Rainy weather did not prevent more than 120,000 booklovers from showing up on the National Mall for the 2009 National Book Festival, sponsored by the Library of Congress.

More than 70 authors and illustrators participated in the festival. Hundreds of people crowded around themed pavilions to hear big-name authors like John Grisham, Jodi Picoult, Lois Lowry, Paula Deen, and James Patterson talk about their work and answer questions from fans.

Laughter could be heard from the pavilions as authors made jokes and talked one-on-one with people in the crowds. Nicholas Sparks, author of popular novels “The Notebook” and “A Walk to Remember,” said it was his first time participating in the National Book Festival.

“It is something I have never done,” Sparks said. “I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to be in a big crowd of people who love books.”

The National Book Festival began at 10 a.m. in the Fiction and Fantasy Pavilion with the official opening and presentation of the National Book Festival Creative Achievement Award to John Grisham.

The crowd grew quickly into the thousands; many had camped out before 10 a.m. for book signings.

Jennifer Gavin, senior public affairs specialist at the Library of Congress, was pleased with the turnout for this year’s festival.

“The number of people here is impressive, especially early on in the day,” she said.

Even with ominous weather conditions, Gavin said, “booklovers will not be daunted.”

Eleven large, white pavilions lined the mall. Popular ones included the Pavilion of States, which highlighted reading, literacy and library promotion activities in all 50 states.

The literacy-themed tents, ranging from fiction and fantasy to poetry and prose, remained crowded throughout the day as authors led 30-minute sessions on their work.

Visitors also indulged in many giveaways that included tote bags, T-shirts, posters, and bookmarks.

Volunteer organization Junior League provided 425 volunteers for the event. The organization has been involved in the D.C. area for several years promoting literacy.

“We enjoy being a part of the community. The festival is a great way for us to give our volunteer hours,” Haisse Borgmann, communications director for Junior League, said.

Senior Andrew Elwell said he has wanted to go to the festival for the past four years. He was pleased with the event and described it as “pretty cool.”

“Since it’s just down the block from GW, I think it’s a good thing to go to,” he said.

Carol Campbell, a sophomore, said she has known about the festival since she was a kid and follows the Library of Congress on Twitter.

Campbell was impressed with the large turnout on the Mall and was pleased to see various organizations like PBS and “Let’s Read America” represented throughout the day.

“The festival is a unique, unified front for something not well presented in society,” Campbell said. “It’s neat to see, in an age of technology, a festival dedicated to print.”

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